Following controversy around previous capital punishment cases, the state of Oklahoma voted on the constitutionality of the death penalty. And it's official; for now, capital punishment in Oklahoma isn't going anywhere. The real question is, how will Oklahoma execute death row prisoners now that residents have voted on a new measure?
There are currently 49 inmates on Death Row, including the high-profile Richard Glossip, whose sentencing sparked protests. Glossip escaped execution due to an Oct. 2015 delay of executions that was passed due to investigation into Oklahoma's methods of execution, ABC reported. The state Department of Corrections reportedly accessed an unauthorized drug, potassium acetate, which was possibly used during the Jan. 2015 execution of Charles Warner, according to ABC. The acquisition of the unauthorized potassium acetate is strange considering that Oklahoma's system was under a great deal of scrutiny following the botched execution and prolonged death of Clayton Lockett in 2014, CNN reported.
State Question 776 purports to establish the constitutionality and legality of capital punishment independently from the legality of execution methods. Even though it seemed unlikely that the population of Oklahoma would attempt to abolish the death penalty, 52 percent of Oklahomans do support the end of capital punishment given an alternative is offered, according to a News 9/News on 6 poll. The death penalty is legal in 31 states. Ballots in California and Nebraska had initiatives involving possibly repealing capital punishment, but voters struck these down. In California, an initiative regarding speeding up the execution process narrowly passed as well.
The constitutionality of the death penalty largely came into question due to the state's past botched execution controversy. The Oklahoma Supreme Court originally blocked Lockett's execution before caving to political pressure, Newsweek reported. Sponsors of State Question 776, including Rep. John Paul Jordan, want to make sure both that the state Supreme Court doesn't have the opportunity to block more executions, and that the death penalty isn't repealed in Oklahoma. There are currently five legal execution methods in the United States: lethal injection, electrocution, hanging, gas chamber, and firing squad. Still, lethal injection is the primary method of execution in all states where the death penalty is legal, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Oklahoma was the first state to adopt lethal injection in 1977, but the ballot initiative is being combined with a push to replace injections with nitrogen gas, Jordan told Newsweek.
So what will State Question 776 accomplish? Oklahoma legislature will be authorized to provide for "any method of administering the death penalty not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution." Glossip's execution was delayed due to questions about the execution method, but Oklahoma's initiative makes sure death sentences won't be prevented by challenges to the legality of the execution method. State Question 776 also establishes that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment.
While the death penalty doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon in Oklahoma, the execution methods used will very likely be changing to more foolproof methods. We'll have to wait and see what Oklahoma's residents decide about capital punishment in the future.